The Poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi

The Sufi saint Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) is considered “the supreme genius of Islamic mysticism,” and has been called, “the greatest mystical poet of any age.”

As a young boy he showed all the signs of saintliness and his father called him Maulana, “Our Master.” By age twenty-four he was an acknowledged Master of Arabic grammar, Islamic law, Koranic commentary, astronomy, and Sufi lore.

But it wasn’t until he met his Master, Shams-I Tabriz, at the age of thirty-seven, that he came to experience the highest truth. Many legends surround this meeting, and they all tell of the dramatic destruction of Rumi’s books by Shams, and Rumi’s recognition that book-knowledge could not lead him to the highest truth. Rumi’s son wrote: “After meeting Shams, my father danced all day and sang all night. He had been a scholar – he became a poet. He had been an ascetic – he became drunk with love.”

But the ecstatic unity with his Master soon ended. Two years after meeting Shams – whom Rumi described as “the Beloved clothed in human form” – his Master suddenly disappeared, and was never seen again. Rumi was left with an unspeakable emptiness, and a grief that he tried to fill with singing and dancing.

It was at this time of longing that an endless cascade of poetry began to pour from Rumi’s lips. Thousands of verses flowed out as he called and called to his lost Beloved. In the end, Rumi found that he was calling to himself, that the Beloved he longed for was with him all the time. In one of his quatrains Rumi writes: ‘All my talk was madness, filled with dos and don’ts. For ages I knocked on a door – when it opened I found that I was knocking from the inside!”
(From “The Inner Treasure” by Jonathan Star)

My Worst Habit

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I’m with.
If you’re not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle and knot up.
How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.
When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can’t hope.
The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.
Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.


Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.

Love Is the Funeral Pyre

Love is
The funeral pyre
Where I have laid my living body.
All the false notions of myself
That once caused fear, pain,
Have turned to ash
As I neared God.
What has risen
From the tangled web of thought and sinew
Now shines with jubilation
Through the eyes of angels
And screams from the guts of
Infinite existence
Love is the funeral pyre
Where the heart must lay
Its body

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(From “The Essential Rumi” – translations by Coleman Barks, with John Moyne)

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